Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Most Powerful Force In the World

Brad Sullivan
Proper 25, Year A
October 29, 2017
Emmanuel, Houston
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

The Most Powerful Force In the World

Becca Stevens is an Episcopal priest and the founder and president of Thistle Farms which she stared 20 years ago with five women who needed healing, survivors of abuse, trafficking, and prostitution.  She started with five women in a house called Magdalene, and there these five women found the healing power of love as they lived together, cared for each other, and loved their way back to wholeness.  After four years, Becca and the women of Magdalene House realized they also needed women to become economically independent to fully get their lives back, and so they stared making candles, oils, and other healing products.  Thistle Farms began, and the women who were survivors of the worst that humanity has to offer began operating this business, Thistle Farms, learning about running a business, while being healed themselves, and while generating revenue so that more women survivors could come and live in one of the houses for the two year program and also be healed. 

In the twenty years that Thistle Farms has been healing women and sustaining itself through the healing products they make and sell, Becca Stevens has found that “Love is the most powerful force for change in the world.”

That sounds a bit like what Jesus taught, doesn’t it.  Love God, and love people.  That is the only religion Jesus is really interested in us having.  When Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and the close second is to love people, he was talking to the uber religious Pharisees.  They were like the extreme high church people of our day.  If there was a law, a rule, a rubric about their religious practice, they followed it absolutely to the t.  There was nothing particularly wrong about that except for what was in their hearts and the reasons why they were following the law absolutely to the t. 

See they were following all of their religious practice rules because they thought doing so made them righteous in God’s eyes.  They really wanted God to be pleased with them and they wanted to look good before God and others.  In other words, their extreme religious observance was mostly selfish and done with a misunderstanding of who God is and what God desires for us.  For a timely example, they’d basically turned God into Jobu. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Jobu, he was a small voodoo idol statue guy who made his cinematic debut in film Major League.  In the movie, the Cleveland Indians baseball team were dead last in Major League Baseball and they had a rather rag tag group of players, plenty of talent, but a little rough around the edges.  Pedro Cerano was their big heavy hitter and could hit a home run off of a fastball just about every time, but he couldn’t hit a curve ball.  So, he kept this little statue named Jobu in his locker, and he prayed to Jobu to help him hit the curve ball.  Not only that, he tried to please Jobu by leaving him offerings of cigars and rum, and as he told his teammates, “It’s very bad to drink Jobu’s rum; it’s very bad.”  Of course Jobu didn’t actually help him hit the curveball and in the end, he decided he would just hit the curveball himself.

The Pharisees had turned God into Jobu.  “Yea for us,” they thought, “We’re offering to God all of our proverbial cigars and rum; we’re following every religious practice, every single one, so that God will be pleased with us.”  They were even instructing others and even scaring them into trying to do the same so that God would not be angry with them.  In other words, “it’s very bad to drink Jobu’s rum.”  The Pharisees had forgotten that the point of the law, the point of all of their religious practices was not to please God, but rather to help heal their own hearts so that they might be better able to love others.

God doesn’t care about our religious practices.  As much as the law of Moses said that people had to sacrifice animals to atone for their sins, the prophets said over and over again, “Would you stop with that animal sacrifice stuff?  God doesn’t want it.  God doesn’t care.  He just wants you to treat each other well, to take care of each other, and to live lives of love.”  That’s like the new ultra-revised standard international version, but that was the message.  “I don’t care about this stuff.  I don’t care about these religious practices.  Just love each other.”

Love God, and love people.  If at any time, obeying a rule of the law forces you to act in a way that is not loving toward God or people, then break the law.  If at any time heeding the words of the prophets forces you to act in a way that is not loving toward God or people, then do not heed the words of the prophets.

So, if God really isn’t all that into religion, why do we have religion?  Why do we have these rituals and routines and ways of life?  Well, again I’ll turn to Becca Stevens with Thistle Farms.  The point of the ritual and the religion is to help us love God and love people.  In her book, Love Heals, Becca writes about the healing power of ritual.  She writes about her morning ritual including prayer which took years to work out what truly helped heal her heart each day.  She wrote that keeping this morning ritual got her ready for the day and helped heal her heart each day so that she could be more loving toward her family and everyone else she saw during the day.  She wrote that “[Keeping these rituals] might mean dinners are simpler, clothes don’t get folded as often, and you miss out on other activities, but for folks like me who can spin out and lose focus, morning rituals are grounding and essential.”  “We need some good old-time religious practices,” she wrote, “to infuse our lives so we can use the most powerful force - love - to heal our communities.”

Personally, I’ve found healing in old time religious practices, particularly in the last month or so by praying morning prayer each morning.  For years, my practice was to pray morning prayer by myself with a cup of coffee, and before having kids, this daily practice worked out pretty well, and there were a couple of years that I found healing every morning through these prayers.  Enter children, and I just couldn’t do it for a while. Still, that was my practice, morning prayer every morning, and I rarely followed that practice. 

Then there was Harvey and praying Compline each night via Facebook life, and those prayers and rituals and the community praying together.  One of our vestry members asked if we could do Morning Prayer as well, so the next morning I began praying Morning Prayer Monday through Saturday at about 6:00 each morning and inviting others to join via Facebook Live.  There has been a change in my life with this newly rediscovered ritual, especially because I’m getting to pray with others, even if they aren’t present at the time and they join in by watching later.  If that particular routine isn’t going to work for you, and it’s not going to be healing for everyone, then find another routine, some other old-time religious practice that does heal your heart.  Time to breathe, time to center in prayer, letting all that is pass by and simply be in the moment.  Look at the beauty of the earth, the trees, the sky, the beauty of the people around, giving thanks, feeling our connectedness, noticing the daily gift of the sunrise and sunset.  Breathe, be still, light a candle to cast out the darkness, pray through scripture and the words of Jesus.  Join with others in prayer.

Having routine and practices, religious rituals is a wonderful, healing way to live, not because God cares one whit if we pray morning prayer, but because these rituals help to heal our hearts, to reconnect us to the source of all life and love, the God who created all that is.  Then, with our hearts healed, we can live out that love toward others.  God cares about our healing and our love for one another quite a lot.  That’s why God would be pleased with our religious practices, that these rituals may heal us so that we will be better able to love.  

If we don’t follow religious practices, God’s not offended.  God is not Jobu upset that we didn’t offer him rum.  Rather, God offers us religious practices and rituals because God knows we’ll find healing by connecting to him each day, because God is love, and “love is the most powerful force for [healing and] change in the world.”

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